From Mike Mayko, CT Post:
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ president insisted Monday there was no link between a $14,000 contribution to aid mayor Bill Finch’s plan to change the city charter and his proposal to amend zoning laws to allow a high-tech billboard next to Interstate 95 at Harbor Yard.
“The claim that the two are linked is precipitously false,” said Howard Saffan, whose Sound Tigers staff also manages the arena. “We’ve donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charitable organizations over the years.”
This donation, to a political action committee that supported the charter change, was part of an effort to improve Bridgeport’s failing schools, he said.
Saffan said the Sound Tigers have been a good community partner, raising more than $10,000 during their first four games this season for the American Red Cross, Bridgeport Rescue Mission and Operation Hope among others. He said 1,000 pounds of food was collected and distributed to the Merton House, Sterling House and Connecticut Food Bank.
Ray Baldwin, the former Trumbull first selectman who now heads St. Vincent’s Special Needs Center, said the Sound Tigers have been generous to his organization.
“They’ve been generous donating players’ time; tickets to various events and money collected at promotions,” said Baldwin, whose center serves 350 people a day.
Some Finch critics questioned the timing of the contribution since it comes as the arena has a potentially lucrative business deal on the table that needs city approval.
Finch has also denied any quid pro quo.
Other businesses also donated money to the charter change, which, if it had been approved, would have allowed Bridgeport mayors to appoint Board of Education members as opposed to them being elected by voters. The proposal was soundly defeated.
Saffan has to persuade the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission to change sections of their laws dealing with signage at Harbor Yard. The commission, which tabled the matter during their September meeting, will re-hear the petition filed by Independent Outdoor II, a Wallingford sign company, on No. 19 at 6 p.m. in City Hall.
The proposed change also allows as much as 40 percent of the advertising on the new billboard to promote non-arena events, which could raise revenue for the cash-strapped operation.
“The city has an incredible amount of money tied up in this arena,” Saffan said. “It’s in their interest to at least break even.”
In September, Saffan told the commission the arena lost more than $1 million in the last decade.
“The arena was a business that was failing,” Saffan said, noting that his staff lined up 50 more events in their first 14 months of management. “We did not want to see it go the way of the New Haven Coliseum. We did not want to see it go dark.”
So they’ve painted the inside, unveiled a state-of-the-art massive indoor scoreboard with four screens on Nov. 11 and installed 800-foot electronic digital ribbon board spanning the center.
These additions helped secure the 2012-13 NCAA Women’s Basketball Regional Tournament for this year and the NCAA Men’s Hockey Frozen Four Tournament semifinals for 2014, Saffan said.
He said the proposed billboard built on arena property will be V-shaped and high enough to be visible to drivers on both sides of I-95.
Even if the city approves, the billboard can’t be erected until it receives the OK from the state Department of Transportation.
Opposing the change is Lamar Advertising, a national outdoor billboard company, which already has an electronic billboard on I-95 about a half mile from the arena, and stands to lose money if a competing billboard is installed.
John Kennelly, who represents Lamar in the fight, said the arena’s request is an effort to “create unique rules that don’t apply to the everyday Joe or Joe Company.”
Saffan countered that Lamar wants “a monopoly” over electronic signage on I-95.